The dissatisfaction that comes by comparison is the chief engine for materialism and consumerism. The computer you bought last year which was the most amazing piece of technology in the world is an embarrassment to it’s inventor next to the Macbook Air. Of course in about a year or less the Macbook Air will seem like a crude, technological piece of flint used by a primitive and uneducated Cro-Magnon geek in comparison to the techno-licious shiny thing that just came on the market. Following Jesus can, early on, feel exciting and radical … right up through the first costly sacrifice or the invitation to follow him into simplicity or even downright deprivation in the eyes of the world. Then you begin to look at friends, even other Christians, and you start to feel like a self-deprived prude, like you got a raw deal in comparison to your peers who seem to follow Jesus just fine and indulge things from which you feel called to abstain. Faithfulness and obedience to Jesus loses its “alternative lifestyle” charm pretty quickly.
Jesus could have compared himself to any earthly ruler (political or religious) and become immensely dissatisfied with how things were going for him. Caesar, Herod and the High Priest, Caiaphas, had radically different life circumstances than Jesus did. It could undermine his entire calling and destiny to compare himself with these men. “Hey Dad.” Jesus might have said, “there are some ladies around here showing interest in me, so I thought it’d be alright to, you know, get involved. I mean if Herod can take his brother’s wife, surely I can show people what a good monogamous relationship looks like, right? You know this whole itinerant business is getting lonely. Moses had a wife, right? All things are possible with you, so, if you don’t mind, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. And how about a home base? I would share it with others and all. I’m not even asking for a tenth of what Caesar has, just a little place by the sea with an upper room for guests. The disciples and I could fix it up – I am a carpenter you know. I would turn it into a training center and the first ever Christian leadership institute. And I could cut way, way down on travel time with just a few horses for me and the guys. I did create them – you remember, all things were made by me and for me. I’m not asking for any more than you’ve given the other spiritual authorities like Caiaphas and Annas.”
Comparison would have given Jesus justification for doing just about anything. But Jesus wasn’t going where Herod, Caesar or Caiaphas were going. He didn’t come to build the same kind of kingdom that they were building or to rule in the kinds of offices that they were entrusted to execute. If he compared himself with them, he could only hope to accomplish what they had accomplished. None of the other great leaders were taking on the sins of humanity.
Comparison between ministries that have a lot in common can be deadly too. John the Baptist’s disciples were highly disturbed that Jesus’ disciples were outbaptizing them. They must have read some of the “biggering” theories of ministry expansion, because Jesus was clearly siphoning people out of their ministry, devastating their annual plan numbers. Eventually John the Baptist was killed and his ministry dried up completely. Even Jesus’ disciples were concerned and threatened by someone who was not “one of them,” and was casting out demons in Jesus’ name (Mark 9:38). And though others compared Jesus to the great prophets (Matt. 6:14), it would have been unhelpful for him to do so. He had to trust the Father explicitly for his destiny, without measuring himself against prophets, kings or even angels (Heb. 1:5) in order to march headlong into a place of abandonment and crucifixion – something God had asked of no one else.
The same is true for you and me. The paths Jesus asks us to take are often not the paths he asks others to take. You can justify the avoidance of any task simply by finding the right saint and saying, “They never had to do this,” or you can do anything you want to do by looking at other noble, godly people and saying, “They got to do this.” But we are unique individuals, and he sometimes calls us to a long obedience in a unique direction.